The Freedom Maze, by Delia Sherman:
Descriptions of a working, pre-Civil War plantation; the relationships between slaves, and between slaves and their owners; the speech patterns and dialect; the depiction of a complicated religious and mythological belief system; from all of that and more, as I read, I was convinced that Delia Sherman must have done a boatload of research for this book*. That made the complete lack of infodumps all the more impressive: even when Sophie gets a crash-course in plantation life via some of the younger slaves, Sherman doesn't use that opportunity to give her readers a lecture—instead, she cuts away from the scene. I loved that.
Feral Nights, by Cynthia Leitich Smith: I adored the Tantalize quartet, and so I was so excited to find out about this spin-off series! It's set in the same universe, and it stars some of the same characters: Clyde the werepossum, human Aimee, and newcomer Yoshi, the super-sexy werecat brother of Ruby the suspected murderess (and also super-sexy) werecat.
As in the Tantalize books, Smith plays a LOT with the different traits and cultural relationships between the different species, and she includes LOADS of SF/F references. It's different in tone, though, more quirkfest-bananas (one word: WEREYETIS), and less end-of-the-world EPIC. Kind of like the Zeppo episode of Buffy, or the episode of Leverage where Parker is stuck at home with a broken leg, a comparison that is even more apt when you consider the fact that that action in this book is taking place at the same time as the action in Diabolical. (They work as stand-alones, though.)
Smith dosn't satirize herself in quite the same way as Buffy and Leverage did, though the end result is similar: ultimately, Clyde and Aimee level up from being sidekicks to heroes in their own right. Her books are always such a blast, and I can't wait to read the next one.
The Cydonian Pyramid, by Pete Hautman: As in The Obsidian Blade, the story rapidly bounces from time to time, place to place, character to character, timestream to timestream, and because of that alone, there will be plenty of readers who won't find it particularly enthralling. The jargon and occasional dialect will turn others off.
Personally, I loved the first book in the series, and so even though this one didn't do a whole lot for me emotionally (except for the section about Lah Lia's time in Hopewell, which felt more personal than the rest of the book), I'm still enjoying the series on a more intellectual level: basically, I'm curious about where Hautman's going with it, and I look forward to the inevitable final confrontation between Tucker and his father and Lah Lia and hers.
Personal Effects, by E.M. Kokie: ...apparently, I never wrote about this one. It's about Matt, who is grieving for his older brother, who was recently killed in Iraq. Matt's life is spiraling down—school, home, friends—and so he starts digging into his brother's life in an effort to find some closure. In so doing, he finds out that his brother was keeping some Rather Large Secrets: the big one being [SPOILER] that he was gay [END SPOILER].
It's a story that could have gone in any number of unimpressive directions—trite, preachy, insipid, black/white—but doesn't. Kokie doesn't shy away from Matt's less-than-politically-correct and sometimes less-than-empathetic feelings—and even when he's exhibiting them, he's still a sympathetic character because of all of the pain and confusion and anger he's feeling—and she always, always stays true to her character. It's a good one about the complexities of family and brotherhood and truth and bravery, and I'm kicking myself for not having gotten around to writing about it Way Back When.
Weasels, by Elys Dolan, and Have You Seen My Dragon?, by Steve Light: Since I'm doing all of the ordering for the library, I have to pay closer attention to picture books now, too! And these two look way cool. I mean, HELLO, AWESOME--->
Boy on the Edge, by Fridrick Erlings: Icelandic author! Setting: a home for troubled boys called the Home for Lesser Brethren. O.o
Feral Curse, by Cynthia Leitich Smith: As I said above, I ADORE THE TANTALIZE QUARTET, and I don't know how I managed to miss out on this spin-off series for so long. (I only read Feral Nights today! Apparently Feral Curse has a haunted carousel! HAUNTED! CAROUSEL!)
The Story of Buildings, by Patrick Dillon and Into the Unknown, by Stephen Ross: In both books, the illustrations are by Stephen Biesty, so these are obvious picks for fans of his Cross-sections books. (Of which I am one.)
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton: Magical realism is generally Not My Thing, but it looks like Candlewick is pushing this one hard. Which makes me curious.
Swim that Rock, by John Rocco & Jay Primiano: Did you ever see that movie Diggers? I feel like no one else did, even though it was quite good, and, like, EVERYONE was in it. Okay, by 'everyone', I mean Ken Marino and Paul Rudd and Maura Tierney. ANYWAY. This book ALSO deals with clamming and a family teetering on the brink of economic disaster. And I want to read it.
Breakfast Served Anytime, by Sarah Combs and The Chance You Won't Return, by Annie Cardi:
Two debut contemporaries. A coming-of-age story set in a Kentucky summer camp for geeks and a girl figuring out high school and first love... and a mother who thinks she's Amelia Earhart. SOLD AND SOLD.